Five percent of U.S. children and teens are 'severely obese'

Despite the fact that overall childhood obesity rates are leveling off, "severe obesity" is becoming more of a problem for U.S. kids and teens, a new report from the American Heart Association reveals.

Children over the age of 2 are defined as severely obese if they have a body mass index (BMI) that's at least 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their gender or age. If they have a BMI of 35 or higher, they also fall into this category, the report stated.

Disease danger

The medical implications for severely obese children include higher rates for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and early signs of atherosclerosis - a condition characterized by the thickening and clogging of artery walls.

"Severe obesity in young people has grave health consequences," Aaron Kelly, Ph.D., lead author of the statement and a researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, said in a press release. "It's a much more serious childhood disease than obesity."

Moreover, treating severely obese children can be difficult, as most standard approaches don't work, the report stated.

“Once this problem gets so severe, there’s no turning back, or there’s no turning back easily,” said Dr. Thomas Inge, a co-author of the paper and director of the Center for Bariatric Research and Innovation at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Filling the gap

The report calls for innovative approaches to fill the gap between lifestyle interventions or medication and surgery. Awareness about what constitutes severe obesity is crucial, the researchers noted. For example, a 7-year-old girl of average height who weighs 75 pounds is considered severely obese. A 13-year-old boy of average height who weighs 160 pounds falls into this same category.

More research on the safety of bariatric surgery for children and teens would be helpful, the statement suggests, as wells as the evaluation of the effectiveness of lifestyle modification interventions.

Finally, recognizing obesity as a chronic disease that requires ongoing care and treatment is paramount, the report concluded.

Findings from the report are published in the journal Circulation.

Source: Science Daily

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